San Pedro Through The Eyes Of A Master

Evrika “Evo” Zatikyan may be a man of few words, but his paintings — more than 6,000 in the past 20 years alone — speak volumes. The prolific Armenian painter spends hours behind the canvas creating impressions of colorful everyday scenes that capture and explore the human experience.

In honor of San Pedro’s 125th anniversary, Zatikyan turned his eye on the town for a special set of paintings that were unveiled on Oct. 19 at the Croatian Cultural Center on 7th Street. It wasn’t his first exhibit at the center, but Zatikyan is the first featured artist in the Art Without Boundaries series, which collaborates with consulates to showcase international artists in both Los Angeles and their home countries.

“I’m touched by the city’s view, by its scenic sea, and I’m very fond of sea life,” Zatikyan says through friend and fellow artist Martiros Hakopian, acting as a translator, who will also be featured in the Art Without Boundaries series. “And the people here have a good energy.”

Zatikyan went to art school in Armenia and spent eight years imprisoned in Siberia for his politically themed paintings before coming to the United States 20 years ago. Today he paints on a daily basis and his work hangs in public and private collections throughout Europe and the United States, including Rutgers University.

He recently spent time in San Pedro that inspired several paintings of the Harbor. Cranes rise in the distance over colorful waters that reflect the busy port as undefined passersby go about their day. Ripples of water hug a scene that takes in sail boats against the Palos Verdes Peninsula. His style recreates a sensory experience of life on the waterfront and the spirit of a port town.

“I do everything under impressions, and the impressions here are really touching me,” he says. “The ocean always gives big energy, so I like to capture that.”

More than 50 people, including Armenian Consul Suren Vardanyants, attended the exhibit of his paintings of San Pedro. Zatikyan was presented with awards from the offices of Congresswoman Janice Hahn and State Senator Roderick Wright.

“I think it’s a great contribution to San Pedro,” says Maya Bristow, president of the Croatian Cultural Center. “Art Without Boundaries is going to create a dialogue for artists like Evo. It’s a cultural cross-promotion.”

Zatikyan has been invited to give an exhibit in Armenia, and also plans to show in France and Croatia.

“He is a master of capturing the moment, he can capture moments better than a camera,” Hapokian says. “Why? Because the camera gives you dry images, but art involves emotion. It might not be photographic resemblance, but it’s character resemblance; the soul, the moment.”

Zatikyan spent 20 years painting 12 hours a day.

“I meet a lot of artists and Evo is one of a kind,” Bristow says. “It is very nice to celebrate his generosity and his vision of San Pedro. We are very happy to have him.” spt

The Art Without Boundaries series features artists from around the world and can be viewed at the Croatian Cultural Center (510 W. 7th St.) For more info, visit www.croatianculture.org.

Westmont Drive Fiasco Proves It: Stupid Is As Stupid Does

It’s a good thing I take blood pressure medication because I nearly popped a vein when I read what happened to Westmont Drive. And that was before I read the response from our councilman and his spokesman.

We live in the age of stupidity, so what happened on Westmont shouldn’t have surprised me. After all, look what Washington, D.C., has given us now that policy is determined not by “will it work” but on “will it feel good?” That kind of thinking in Sacramento has given us a pair of transportation boondoggles known as the bullet train and Complete Streets Act (“Well, it looked good on paper”). LAUSD wants my wife to supervise breakfast for 24 kindergartners in the classroom (visualize crayons in syrup). And somewhere in an ivory tower cubicle in Downtown L.A., someone who’s probably never even driven on Westmont read the Complete Streets Act and decided that what one of the worst traffic areas in San Pedro needed was the elimination of a car lane to provide room for bicyclists. Something about the street being “underutilized.”

There are so many things wrong with this that I hardly know where to begin. Councilman Joe Buscaino said he’d ask the Department of Transportation to provide an update on the impact of one less car lane. Too bad no one thought of doing that before the changes were made. How about the city send just one employee to stand on the corner of Westmont and Western between 7:30 and 8 a.m. any weekday? Anyone ever try exiting from Coco’s or Rite Aid onto Westmont at any time of day? As the debate continues over adding 830 housing units at Ponte Vista, the “Nightmare on Western Avenue” not only hasn’t been helped, it’s been made worse.

It’s bad enough that it was done literally while no one was looking. That it’s just another ham-fisted effort by the nanny state we now live in to get people out of their cars and onto bikes is pretty obvious from the comments by Buscaino spokesman Branimir Kvartuc. He said that the change wasn’t made “to accommodate (existing) bicyclists but to encourage (new) bicyclists.” Buscaino then doubled down by saying, “This is to encourage people to get out of their cars and use their bikes. To those who say San Pedro doesn’t use bikes, I say, ‘Let’s start. Why not?’”

Why not? Well, have you tried to get all those parents to stop driving their kids to Dodson and Mary Star? Maybe that’s the plan: Make the drive so miserable they’ll stop. Good luck with that. Or ask your longshore buddies to bike to work. Oh, that’s right, there isn’t a bicycle lane on the Vincent Thomas Bridge. Can’t see a lot of families bicycling to Field of Dreams. And it might be hard to pick up lumber or plants at Home Depot using a bike. I guess you could haul paving stones in a backpack two at a time. Perhaps you can encourage my 84-year-old mother who lives near Dodson to hop on a bicycle to make her hair appointment. The only accomplishment of eliminating that car lane right now is making sure she and dozens of other drivers sit in their cars an extra 10 or 15 minutes waiting at the intersection of Western and Delasonde.

That’s why not, Joe.

This must be what happens when a politician runs for re-election without any opposition.

Time for a reality check, councilman: This isn’t Asia or Europe. This isn’t even Santa Monica. This is San Pedro. I would have expected a comment like Joe’s from someone who lives on the Westside or a beach city, but not from a native of San Pedro who should know better. I took issue with Janice Hahn over her planting stop signs and speed humps all over town, but at least she had the pulse of San Pedro when it came to Ponte Vista. That’s what we need now, a councilman who will stick up for his constituency – the vast majority of which rely on cars and trucks.

Maybe Joe’s just spent too much time around people like that downtown San Pedro art gallery owner who had the gall to say, “People in vehicles think they own the road…We need to eliminate our reliance on four-wheeled transportation.”

Sorry, but people who drive DO own the road, in a matter of speaking. We pay 71-cents a gallon in taxes every time we stop at a gasoline station, and most of that money goes to transportation projects. Those people in their bright Spandex and shiny helmets who cruise the peninsula every weekend should thank the gas-guzzlers instead of metaphorically flipping them off. I say this as someone who road his bike to work for most of the `80s, way before it became de rigueur. And, yes, I looked ridiculous in Spandex.

This column is appearing a month after the bicycle lane went in. Here’s hoping that by now Joe has come to his senses and is doing all he can to get the Westmont car lane restored. Traffic officials realized the error of their ways last year when they messed with the turning lanes from Weymouth onto Western and quickly changed it back. Like the general in charge of the Hurricane Katrina cleanup said, “Don’t get stuck on stupid.” spt

Holy Trinity’s Eagles Have Landed

New Eagle Scouts (l to r): Brad Fistonich, Matt Yracheta and Austin Leavitt (photo: Anita Yracheta & Julio Lemus)

Brad Fistonich, Austin Leavitt and Matt Yracheta aren’t your typical high school seniors. In addition to balancing varsity football, heavy class loads and choosing between college acceptance letters, the 18-year-olds have spent ten years going camping, earning merit badges and moving up in the ranks of the Boy Scouts of America. Three months ago, all three became Eagle Scouts, the highest rank in scouting, and an honor earned by only 5 percent of scouts annually.

On March 9, Fistonich, Leavitt and Yracheta had their Eagle Scout Court of Honor at Holy Trinity Parish, where they are members of Troop 234, and are the 24th, 25th and 26th scouts in the history of the troop to make Eagle. Congresswoman Janice Hahn was on hand to present them with certificates of honor from President Barack Obama.

“I’m extremely proud of what Matt, Austin and Brad have accomplished; they are great scouts and excellent role models for San Pedro’s youth both in and out of scouting,” says Troop 234 Scoutmaster Dwayne Cooper. “One of the aims of scouting is to develop well-rounded young men who are prepared to give back to their community. Through the service they provided in their scouting career and especially their Eagle projects, they have already begun to give back.”

Although the teens began their paths to Eagle Scout in different troops and went to different high schools – Yracheta attends the San Pedro High School Marine Science Magnet, and Fistonich and Leavitt go to Mary Star of the Sea High School – the three have developed and maintained a tight bond strengthened by their shared experience of making Eagle Scout.

“Boy Scouts isn’t all fun and games; it’s serious stuff and in the end, it’s very rewarding,” says Fistonich, who started out as a Cub Scout at Holy Trinity before bridging over to the Boy Scouts, eventually becoming a Senior Patrol Leader. Of the 21 merit badges needed to become an Eagle Scout, his favorite was the Shotgun Merit Badge.

In addition to the merit badges, Eagle Scouts must plan, lead and oversee a volunteer service project. Fistonich organized a 40-volunteer effort to renovate the gardening center at Silver Spur Elementary School in Rancho Palos Verdes.

“The whole process was two days, but there were dozens of prep days, which were probably even harder than the actual work days,” he says.

Leavitt spent months planning his project last summer to clean up his school’s deteriorating shipping container-turned weight room. The swimmer and honor roll student oversaw almost 50 volunteers. During his scouting career, he earned the 60 Nights of Camping Badge and reached the highest rank at Chawanakee Summer Camp.

“It’s been a long journey and it’s really nice to be able to finish after 10 years,” he says. “As you move up in the ranks, you figure out what you want to do and how you’re going to lead and be an example to others.”

For his service project, Yracheta led a two-weekend effort to replenish emergency kits in classrooms at Holy Trinity School. He’s also participated in food drives and camped in all types of weather conditions, earning him the 20 Nights Camping award. A member of San Pedro High School’s 2011 Marine League Title-winning varsity football team, he likens scouting to sports.

“When my team went 10-0, it was just like Boy Scouts in that when it was tiring and we wanted to stop and go home, we just had to keep pushing and pushing and go for gold.”

All three teens thank their parents, families, friends and scoutmaster for supporting them through their journeys to Eagle. They have all received multiple acceptance letters from universities. Yracheta plans on attending Marymount College and ultimately UCLA, Leavitt plans on attending California State University Long Beach, and Fistonich is still deciding.

“I think the Boy Scouts has given my son confidence, maturity, and the ability to speak in front of lots of people,” says Brad’s mother, Sharon Fistonich. “I think it’s a great growing experience and I’m very proud. I know all three boys will be friends for life.”

Yaracheta and Leavitt have been scouts together since they were Cub Scouts at Taper Elementary School, where Austin’s father Cary Leavitt was a Den Leader.

“I think the Boy Scout experience gives young men the skills and confidence to succeed at anything they do in the future,” Cary Leavitt says. “At Holy Trinity’s Troop 234, Dwayne Cooper is the most patient and understanding leader.”

Yracheta’s mother Anita says her son and Leavitt have developed a strong bond during the past 10 years that hasn’t changed despite going to different high schools.

“Matt and Austin have been friends since second or third grade, and even though they went to different high schools, it never changed their friendship. The scouts have kept them connected,” she says. “To see them grow and mature into such nice young men has been great. I’m proud of all three to be able to have accomplished what they have.” spt

Garcetti: A Vote For San Pedro

For years, San Pedro has been disillusioned when it comes to getting attention during election season in Los Angeles. In fact, the last time we felt special was when we had both James Hahn serving as the Mayor of Los Angeles and his sister Janice Hahn as our Councilmember. This was our opportunity to truly shine and experience a rebirth for San Pedro and revitalize our downtown and our waterfront.

The momentum shifted when Mayor Hahn lost to current mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and in the past eight years the emphasis on developing our waterfront lost some of the urgency that the project had during Hahn’s term. Although much has been accomplished, there is much more to complete. The question we must ask ourselves when deciding who to vote for in the upcoming Mayoral election is which candidate has the experience to take our waterfront to the next level, as this is really what’s at stake in this election for San Pedro.

Our waterfront has been the lifeblood not only to San Pedro and the Harbor Area, but to the entire Los Angeles region. It is estimated that for every one waterfront job, 10 regional jobs are created. In these tough economic times, it will be essential that the next mayor understands what is required to keep our port competitive as we battle the challenge from a widened Panama Canal, due to open in 2014.

In addition, there is the potential to have a world-class marine research center at City Dock #1 that will provide knowledge-based jobs locally like we have never seen before. A world-class center would put San Pedro on the global stage for ocean research and development as it would be the launching port for many future deep sea explorations. The center would be a catalyst for numerous small businesses to open in support of this new local industry and it would create educational opportunities that would make our waterfront a premiere West Coast hub for oceanography and maritime studies at every level, from kindergarten all the way up to university doctorate programs.

Finally, the next mayor must understand the importance of revitalizing the waterfront with the goal of becoming one of the best and most famous waterfronts in the world. We need a mayor that is not afraid to build our waterfront into becoming an international tourism destination, not just a local attraction for folks that live 30 miles from the water, but even for those that live 30 hours from it.

This is why I am supporting Eric Garcetti to become the next Mayor of Los Angeles. This was a tough decision because I personally like both candidates, but if you equate the future potential of our waterfront as a world destination to what has actually happened in Hollywood with its development over the past 10 years, then you too would support Garcetti.

As a councilman whose district included Hollywood, Garcetti must be admired for the transformation of Tinseltown during his terms, and I believe that the experience and leadership it took to get there is what San Pedro needs in its next mayor. Link this knowledge and experience with the passion, energy, and leadership of our own councilmember, Joe Buscaino, and we have a recipe for success. It is no coincidence that Buscaino has endorsed Garcetti for the May 21 run-off election. It is because they share the same vision for Los Angeles, especially growing our waterfront to become a world destination!

San Pedro is forecasted to be the swing district in this election. So, after all these years after being thought to be the stepchild of the city of Los Angeles, we could be the district that determines the outcome. This is a great position to be in. Eric stated when he was in San Pedro, “A lot of people call this area the tail. I see a different image: If the city of L.A. is like a kite, this is the anchor… The growth of this town began because this harbor was dug.” I couldn’t agree more. spt

Anthony Pirozzi is a member of the San Pedro Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors and past president of Eastview Little League. He can be contacted at apirozzi@yahoo.com.

Lights! Camera! Action!

Councilman Joe Buscaino and LAHIFF’s Stephanie Mardesich at the festival’s 10th anniversary press launch

Stephanie Mardesichloves movies.

If not for her passion for the cinema, the ebullient director and founder of the Los Angeles Harbor International Film Festival may not have been able to carry the event through to its 10th anniversary this year.

“A decade is a significant epoch and though I don’t feel older, clearly ten years has passed,” she says of the milestone.

As Mardesich describes it, the LAHIFF has always been a celebration of film. Unlike more relevant film festivals like Cannes, Sundance, South by Southwest or Toronto, which are geared towards new and independent films looking for distribution, the LAHIFF prides itself on celebrating films from both past generations and more contemporary times, with a strong focus on children’s education thrown in.

“The motivation to continue corresponds to the values instilled by my parents to persevere, to strive for excellence as its own reward, to be an individual of conviction, and to never give up on something or someone as long as there is some hope for a positive outcome,” says Mardesich. “It’s better to try and fail than succeed at nothing, as a friend once told me. In spite of challenges we have continued and now have a ten-year record.”

Back in 2003, the idea of establishing a film festival in San Pedro wasn’t a far-fetched one. The town already had an iconic theater to host it, perfectly set in the heart of downtown. Not to mention, San Pedro already had a rich history of being used as Hollywood’s backdrop. From classic films such as Chinatown, to popular current television series like Mad Men, San Pedro has become synonymous with film production.

“Stephanie and I were at a San Pedro Chamber mixer at Ports O’ Call Restaurant and we were chatting with the late Gary Cox about how San Pedro should have a film festival,” recalls Jack Baric, an original co-founder of the festival who has since stepped away. “Stephanie really took the conversation to heart and immediately started working on getting a festival launched. She has been generous enough to include calling me a co-founder, but truthfully she put forth all the effort in launching the festival and has kept it going since then.”

Left: Russ Tamblyn and Academy Award winner George Chakiris, co-stars of West Side Story, at the 2009 festival. Right: Mardesich with actress Betty Garrett and host Tom Hatten at the inaugural festival in 2004

The inaugural festival launched on April 30, 2004, and included such films as The Perfect Storm, the 2000 drama starring George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg, based on Sebastian Junger‘s best-selling book, the 1949 musical comedy Neptune’s Daughter, starring Esther Williams, Betty Garrett and Ricardo Montalban, and an afternoon screening of Disney’s The Little Mermaid for the kids.

Other films featured at the festival throughout the decade include The Unsinkable Molly Brown (1964), The Poseidon Adventure (1972), Disney’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954), South Pacific (1958), Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988), Swiss Family Robinson (1960), and West Side Story (1961), among others.

In 2006, the LAHIFF hosted the world premiere of Baric’s San Pedro documentary, Port Town, which brought a near capacity crowd to the Warner Grand that year.

“When I think of what the festival has become, I just think of Stephanie and how she has persevered in keeping it going,” says Baric. “It is not an easy thing to keep a festival running year after year and yet she has done it, which is a compliment to her passion.”

Mardesich’s other passion is education. Her late mother, Lee, was a teacher at Bandini Street Elementary School and instilled in her family the importance of reading. Mardesich used that inspiration to establish the “Read the Book, See the Movie” (RBSM) program, which has become the cornerstone of the film festival.

“From the beginning, it was clear LAHIFF should have an education element for students,” remembers Mardesich. “It’s so simple. Pick a book that has a film attached. We’ve been focusing on classic literature, but the choices are infinite. Read the book and talk about the differences in the two genres. It’s a more thoughtful way to encourage literacy.”

Every year, one film adaptation of a classic novel is chosen for the RBSM program. Publishing sponsors Penguin and Puffin Classics donated 1,200 paperback copies of the book that are distributed to students from middle school to adult education classes. Participating schools include: John & Muriel Olguin Campus of San Pedro High School, Dana Middle School, Rolling Hills Renaissance School, Pacific Lutheran School, Port of Los Angeles Charter High School, Mary Star of the Sea High School, and the Harbor Service Center (formerly known as San Pedro Adult Learning Center).

For newly-elected L.A. City Councilman Joe Buscaino, the RBSM program is what separates this film festival from the rest.

“‘Read the Book, See the Movie’ is my favorite element of the film festival,” he says. “My wife, who is a teacher at White Point Elementary, has participated in this program, and we understand the educational value that it delivers. LAHIFF’s commitment to San Pedro, its culture and its history, is important.”

Clockwise L to R: The LAHIFF’s 10th annual festival programing includes There’s No Business Like Show Business (1953) starring Donald O’Connor and Marilyn Monroe, Chased by the Dogs (1962) and Disney’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1993)

This year, the four-day festival takes place May 2-5 at the Warner Grand Theatre in historic downtown San Pedro, the heart of the Port of Los Angeles, beginning with a free screening of the RBSM film, Disney’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1993), starring Elijah Wood (The Lord of the Rings Trilogy), on May 2 at 10:30 a.m.

“The story of Huckleberry Finn and his friend the runaway slave Jim, speaks to friendship, loyalty, and courage with an anti-slavery theme,” says Mardesich. “The timing of this classic choice with regard to the recent films Lincoln and Django Unchained is relevant considering issues of social responsibility and morality with historical reflection.”

The festival continues on Friday, May 3, at 7:30 p.m. with the opening night screening of Chased By the Dogs (1962), the film adaptation of the Egyptian novel The Thief and the Dogs by Nobel Laureate Naguib Mahfouz.

Saturday, May 4, marks the annual Hollywood Nostalgia Tribute night featuring Irving Berlin’s 1953 classic, There’s No Business Like Show Business, starring Ethyl Merman, Dan Daley, Donald O’Connor and Marilyn Monroe. The screening is preceded by the “Show Biz and Red Carpet Gala” at the Arcade Building, directly across the street from the Warner Grand. Tickets for the pre-show Gala are $75 ($65 if purchased before April 18), which includes admission to the film, an open bar, appetizers and buffet supper homage to 1950s cuisine. General admission to the film is only $10.

The festival concludes on Sunday, May 5 at 1 p.m., with its traditional “DocSunday” programming featuring the New Filmmakers LA (NFMLA) “On Location Program,” showcasing 22 short films made to promote the City of Los Angeles.

With its eclectic lineup, Mardesich is hoping to pull in audiences who appreciate various genres and who are open to viewing films they might never have seen before.

“Bringing out the audience is probably the greatest challenge of this festival,” admits Mardesich. “[My dream] would be to have a full house — that’s at least one third of the 1,500 seat capacity of the Warner Grand — at the programs. We’ve been fortunate to have several capacity crowds. That’s exciting, though not realistic in current times. When the movie palaces were built, there was an audience to fill the huge space. It’s rare for that to happen any longer, thus theatres like the Warner Grand have become multi-use venues.”

Even with a handful of loyal volunteers, the LAHIFF is still Mardesich’s baby. It’s rare that you spot her around town not wearing one of her many multi-colored LAHIFF t-shirts. Come marketing season, that shirt is usually accompanied by a handful of postcards and posters that she single-handedly distributes across town and throughout Los Angeles.

With continued community support from Congresswoman Janice Hahn and Supervisor Don Knabe, plus local business sponsorships, the LAHIFF continues to stay alive, even through challenging times. With a decade of experience, Mardesich still expresses hope that the festival will become ever grander and more relevant during the next ten years.

“It would be wonderful if an entity or sponsor had the interest to give their name above the title and bring an infusion of funds so there could be a paid administrator and staff and the festival could perhaps go to another level,” she says. “I would still want to be involved and advise so the mission is not distorted, however, the effort it takes now is very consuming and one of these days I might like to take a voyage elsewhere than on the cinematic bridge.” spt

The Los Angeles Harbor International Film Festival takes place Thurs-Sun, May 2-5. Tickets for all programs and reception will be sold online through Brown Paper Tickets, Williams’ Book Store (443 W. 6th St., Downtown), and at the box office (cash only) during the festival one-hour before programs start. General admission is $10 per program; $8 with discounts from select affliliations: GVF, LAMM, IDA, CMA, BAFTA LA and ILWU, and seniors and students. Prices subject to change. For full details, visit www.laharborfilmfest.com.

2012: A Year in Review (December 2012 Cover Story)

Photo by John Mattera

It was a year of incredible change and transformation for San Pedro.

A year of gains, losses and continued tradition. The waters brought us a new resident, a home for artisans was built, and a new councilman was chosen to lead us. We faced the challenge of the land sliding beneath us, out of control skateboarders, and the constant threat of crime. We saw a lighthouse and a church reborn, milestones surpassed, and parking meters meeting their maker. Even through the good and the bad, when 2013 rolls around, history will look back on 2012 as the year it all started coming together for San Pedro.

The previous year did not end well. We were still reeling from the Paseo del Mar landslide that happened in November 2011. At the time, no one had any answers as to why the land toppled into the sea and we were still getting used to having a neighborhood divided by the ocean cliffs. And then things got worse.

Eva Tice

San Pedrans were stunned and saddened by the killing of Eva Tice, a 60-year-old mentally disabled woman who was stabbed walking home on Pacific Ave. from a Christmas Eve church service. Police would later announce a $50,000 reward for information leading to her killer, who fled the scene and still has yet to be found.

Photo by John Mattera

The good news arrived, when, after months of campaigning and a special run-off election against Assemblyman Warren Furutani, former LAPD Harbor Division Senior Lead Officer Joe Buscaino was sworn in as councilman of the city’s 15th District on January 31, replacing Janice Hahn, who won a seat on Congress the previous year.

Residents also freaked out for a bit when false rumors of a serial killer in the Harbor Area spread on Facebook. It turned out to be the end result of a game of telephone after a young woman was found slain in Wilmington.

Later in January, talks began about a proposed a skatepark in Peck Park. After months of planning, the project got a monetary boost from the Tony Hawk Foundation in October. Construction bids should go out this month. Supporters hope the project will be completed before overpass construction will temporarily close the existing Channel Street Skatepark later next year.

Speaking of skating, the increasingly familiar sight of packs of un-helmeted skaters “bombing” hills at high speeds in traffic around town became a forefront issue this year when Caleb Daniel Simpson, a 15-year-old from Palmdale, became the second teen to die engaging in the activity in San Pedro. A few months earlier, 14-year-old Michael Borojevich died after he crashed skating near 25th St. and Western Ave. The deaths gained widespread media attention and prompted officials to eventually ban bombing throughout the city in August.

In February, the Civic Light Opera of South Bay Cities announced its new home at the Warner Grand Theatre. In November, the theatre company announced an indefinite suspension, pulling out of the Warner Grand and leaving existing subscribers in the dark.

Photo courtesy of Boys & Girls Club

Students at San Pedro High School and the Boys & Girls Club got a visit from ballerina and alumnus Misty Copeland, a soloist in the American Ballet Theatre. Copeland returned to her hometown in February to share her experiences getting her start at the Boys & Girls Club and rising to the top of the ballet world, where she is ABT’s first African-American female soloist in decades.

After months of restoration work, St. Peter’s Church, San Pedro’s oldest place of worship, reopened its doors on Easter Sunday at its new home at Green Hills Memorial Park. Originally built in 1884, the church was moved to Green Hills in 2011, where it underwent badly needed repairs.

A much-improved Angels Gate Lighthouse was unveiled in April after a six-month restoration project spearheaded by the Cabrillo Beach Boosters, who fixed the lighthouse’s rusting exterior. Steel reinforcements, a new paint job and zinc coating were just some of the repairs made to help protect the lighthouse from erosion for another 25 years. The Boosters also hope to restore the crumbling interior in time for the lighthouse’s centennial next year.

Point Fermin Lighthouse also made headlines this year when in May, the federal government declared it to be surplus property, basically putting it up for grabs for new ownership. A handful of groups and nonprofits have applied, including the L.A. Department of Recreation and Parks and the Point Fermin Lighthouse Society. We’re still waiting to see who will be chosen to run one of San Pedro’s iconic landmarks.

Arguably, the biggest story of the year for San Pedro was May’s arrival of the historic battleship USS Iowa in the Port of Los Angeles. Only two years ago, the Port had rejected a proposal to berth the ship as a floating museum and tourist attraction. Robert Kent, who founded the nonprofit that spearheaded the effort, got the community to rally around the project, eventually getting the Port to come around. With funding in place and the Port’s blessing, the Pacific Battleship Center made a bid for the ship, and was later granted it by the Navy. Repairs were made in Northern California before the ship was towed to Los Angeles.

On June 9, the ship made its final journey down the main channel to its permanent berth as thousands of spectators on shore lined Harbor Blvd. The ship hosted a Veteran’s reunion and opened for public tours in July.

On the heels of the Iowa’s arrival, the Historic Waterfront Business Improvement District (commonly known as the PBID) put on a Swingin’ Salute Block Party in downtown San Pedro. Residents decked out in their 1940’s best came out for free swing music and dance lessons under new decorative lights crisscrossing over 6th St. The San Pedro Bay Historical Society also put together a series of historical window exhibits displayed in shops downtown.

Also in June, nonprofit Harbor Interfaith Services opened a new, three-story facility on 9th Street, where it relocated its headquarters and expanded services supporting struggling families.

Seven months after a 600-ft. stretch of Paseo del Mar slid into the ocean after a rainstorm, the City released a geotechnical report assessing the causes of the landslide and future of the site. Both natural and manmade factors like irrigation and wave erosion played a role in the slide, but no further ground movement was detected. The City later secured funds to stabilize and grade the area and install drains. Whether or not the road will be re-routed is to be determined with the input of a new 50-member community advisory committee appointed by Councilman Buscaino.

Photo by John Mattera

Another major story of the year happened in late June, when the first of two WWII-era warehouses near 22nd Street Park re-opened as Crafted, an indoor craft marketplace dreamt up by the same developer as Santa Monica’s successful Bergamot Station. With a 35-year lease, dozens of vendors and far-reaching media coverage, Crafted has already proven to be a one-of-a-kind regional draw. After gripes about its $5 parking fee, Crafted gave away free one-year parking passes to local residents and later offered free parking on Fridays.

After planning this year’s Taste in San Pedro festival for Ports O’ Call Village, the Chamber of Commerce announced its cancellation in July. It would be the first summer without one in more than a decade. The Taste wasn’t the only foodie event cancelled this year. Weeks later, organizers of the Ćevapčići Festival announced its cancellation due to lack of funds. It was especially a bummer since the Balkan sausage fest had some big press lined up. The Port’s annual Lobster Festival went on as usual, drawing thousands of sea foodies to the waterfront.

In early August, an 18-year-old former Mary Star of the Sea High School running back confessed to stealing cash registers from several businesses on Western Ave and Gaffey St. He ran into a slight problem when his dad recognized him on the surveillance video that made the media rounds and convinced his son to turn himself in.

More than 600 parking meters were axed in downtown San Pedro and Wilmington this summer, a move by Councilman Buscaino’s office after a study concluded they did more harm than good. Rates on remaining meters also went down. Business owners had long complained that the overabundance of meters and rate hikes discouraged consumers from shopping downtown. The issue was a talking point in the special election to replace former Councilwoman Janice Hahn.

This year’s Navy Days went much smoother than last, drawing 5,000 people over the course of two days (2011’s event was longer and larger, causing a traffic nightmare and long lines). Tour goers got an inside look at the USS Wayne E. Meyer destroyer and the Coast Guard Cutter George Cobb.

The same weekend, reports came pouring in of a man spotted jumping off the Vincent Thomas Bridge shortly after 12:30 p.m. on August 19. A few hours later, Port police announced they had recovered the body of Top Gun director Tony Scott, whose car was found on top of the bridge with a note left inside. His suicide drew national media attention. A coroner’s report later confirmed that contrary to reports, he was not battling cancer at the time of his death.

Photo by John Mattera

Thousands of young San Pedrans went back to school weeks earlier than usual this year, part of an early start schedule adopted by the L.A. Unified School District that’ll have them out for summer in early June (they were originally slated to get out by the end of May, but Prop. 30 changed that). This was also the first year for the new John M. and Muriel Olguin Campus of San Pedro High School, an environmentally innovative annex campus built to relieve overcrowding at SPHS. Shortly after school started, there was a bit of a traffic controversy in the surrounding neighborhood.

Also in August, San Pedro native and LAPD Deputy Chief Patrick Gannon announced his retirement after 34 years on the force. A few months later, he took a new job as Chief of Airport Police at LAX.

Seventeen-year-old Monica Bender, a senior at Mary Star of the Sea High School, made headlines when she swam the 20-mile Catalina Channel the last week of August.

After a string of residential burglaries over the summer had residents on edge, eight new police officers were assigned to LAPD Harbor Division to help curb property crime. Police eventually arrested an 18-year-old San Pedro man linked to one of the crime scenes.

Astronaut and first-mom-in-space Anna Fisher returned to her hometown in September for the fundraiser opening of Harbor Day Preschool. She also took time to speak with students at several high schools. In other San Pedro space news, the ashes of Allyson Diana Genest, an avid Star Trek fan from San Pedro who died in 1999, were sent to outer space with Space X’s Dragon launch in May. It was her dying wish.

Who could forget the refinery burn-off freakout on September 15? When a power outage set off a controlled burn-off at the ConocoPhillips Refinery in Wilmington, shooting flames and smoke high into the air, many residents wondered if there was a raging blaze to worry about. Some later filed complaints about pollution emitted during the burn-off.

On a related note, the Rancho LPG facility on North Gaffey Street – those two big gas tanks across from the Home Depot – got in trouble with air quality officials after neighboring residents reported smelling what turned out to be a gas leak in October. The facility has been subject to criticism and protest from neighboring residents for decades. Councilman Buscaino held a hearing addressing their concerns earlier this year.

Also in October, the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Los Angeles Harbor and Point Fermin Elementary School celebrated milestone birthdays, turning 75 and 100, respectively.

On Columbus Day, eight new inductees were honored at the annual San Pedro Sportswalk to the Waterfront. Later that the day, hundreds gathered outside the Italian-American Club for the councilman’s first Buscaino Block Party and Spaghetti Dinner.

After the Port put out a call over the summer for commercial developers to fix up Ports O’ Call Village, it announced in October that eight had taken interest. A decision on a developer should arrive early next year.

The San Pedro International Film Festival made its debut in October, screening dozens of films and hosting workshops.

On October 10, San Pedro Chamber of Commerce president and CEO, Betsy Cheek, announced her resignation after not having her contract renewed by the Chamber Board of Directors. The Chamber will begin the search for a new president/CEO early next year.

Many San Pedrans were bummed when organizers of the Railroad Revival Tour announced its cancellation weeks before it was set to roll through town (2011’s sold-out Mumford and Sons performance drew thousands to the waterfront). Willie Nelson, Band of Horses, Jamey Johnson, and John Reilly and Friends were set to perform at Ports O’ Call Village on October 27. Band of Horses still wanted to play however, putting on a show at the Warner Grand Theatre the same night instead.

Congresswoman Janice Hahn defeated Congresswoman Laura Richardson in early November in the race to represent California’s newly drawn 44th Congressional District.

Yet another version of the proposed housing development for the long-abandoned Navy housing property along Western Ave. surfaced in early November. The new Ponte Vista is more scaled back than previous incarnations and includes additional lanes to address traffic concerns that have shot down the project in the past.

This month, of course, marks two San Pedro holiday traditions, the 32nd Annual Spirit of San Pedro Christmas Parade, and the 50th L.A. Harbor Holiday Afloat Parade.

We know we missed a few items of note from the past year, but we couldn’t fit everything in. Needless to say, it’s been a year of intense change and challenges. Let’s hope 2013 is just as exciting and full of positive, forward thinking progress as we continue to push San Pedro towards a more prosperous future.

They Shall Be Missed

Sadly, we also lost a number of notable San Pedrans this year. Here’s a list of noteworthy deaths:

Steve Saggiani, longshoreman
Rudy Svorinich Sr., community leader and father of former Councilman Rudy Svorinich, Jr.
“Cheerful” Al Kaye, owner, Union War Surplus
Dr. H. Michael Weitzman, optometrist and philanthropist
Tom Phillips, painter of iconic San Pedro scenes and landscapes
Joseph M. Mardesich III, entrepreneur
Stancil Jones, longtime fire captain
Joe Caccavalla, Tri-Art Festival founder
Ray Patricio, community leader and nature preservationist
Dr. Jerry Blaskovich, dermatologist
Tony Perkov, owner, Ante’s Restaurant
Geoff Agisim, sea chantey singer
John Greenwood, school board member, community leader
Cindy Rutherford, owner, Century Motorcycles
(apologies to those we may have omitted by accident)

Hahn’s Bi-Partisan Congressional Caucus

A rollercoaster of emotions might be the best way to describe Janice Hahn’s entry into the United States Congress.

When she first announced her intention to run, many political pundits framed Janice as the underdog in the primary with California Secretary of State Debra Bowen expected to get a majority of the Democrats’ votes and Republican Craig Huey getting GOP ballots. However, Janice took home the most votes in the primary election and was well on her way to a run-off victory over Huey when life intervened.

On the day before the election, Janice’s mother Ramona Hahn passed away. The next day Janice was elected to Congress. On election night, I recall being in a long line of people who first offered Janice their condolences and then their congratulations. With tears in her eyes she accepted both sentiments graciously and began her work representing our district in Congress.

However, Janice had barely arrived in Washington D.C. when it was announced that her district had been re-drawn and she would be forced to run against an incumbent, Congresswoman Laura Richardson in the 2012 election.

With only one in ten Americans approving the work of Congress, one might wonder, why go through all the trouble to get elected?

Much of the disgust with Washington stems from the belief that the politicians have put party before country and the dysfunctional gridlock that has been created prevents our nation from moving forward out of two wars and the Great Recession into a better future. Janice would not disagree. “When I got to Congress I found myself in the middle of a very partisan, toxic environment that did not lend itself in any way to facilitate efforts by Congress members to work across the aisle. It was more of a team sport, us against them,” she says. “People want us to find a way to put aside our partisan bickering for the good of the nation.”

One of the criticisms that I occasionally would hear people whisper against Janice when she was our councilwoman was that she wanted to please everyone and was too concerned with building complete consensus before making decisions. Janice acknowledges that she always strived to build consensus, in fact she takes pride in it. “I think I was known for being able to work with environmentalists, labor, business, and neighborhood councils to figure out what we have in common to get things done,” she says.

I believe that it is precisely Janice’s great quality: to be able to listen to opposing points of view that might allow her to provide the type of leadership that the American people know we require.

She’s already begun that work in her very first year in Congress. Janice, a Democrat, and Ted Poe, a Republican from Houston, co-founded the bi-partisan PORTS Caucus to raise awareness among their Congressional colleagues about the importance of the nation’s seaports. “Surprisingly, in 112 congresses the subject of our nation’s seaports really had not been elevated to a level that I thought was appropriate considering the economics of our ports and the job creations of our ports,” says Janice. She adds, “I wanted to find something that I could do in a bi-partisan way when I reached across the aisle and asked Ted to consider forming the caucus. He said yes and we now have over 80 members of Congress that are part of the caucus.”

The PORTS Caucus has already given Janice a platform to promote the issues of our Harbor Area. Bi-partisan issues that the caucus advocates include strengthening port homeland security from terrorist attacks, pushing transportation bills that include necessary infrastructure improvements around the ports, creating grants to incubate small business start-ups that create green technology solutions for port pollution, and the creation of a national freight strategy.

The work has already begun to make its mark. President Obama recently created the first-ever White House task force on ports to create a future ports strategy and target infrastructure investments that increases the competitiveness of America’s ports. This task force can pay huge dividends for the continued economic strength of our community and is precisely the type of issue that our elected officials can work on in a bi-partisan manner to speed up our nation’s recovery from the worst economic disaster since the Great Depression.

Janice may have had a bumpy road into Congress, but it is my hope that she enjoys a long ride as our representative. On November 6, I urge you to vote for Janice Hahn as our Congresswoman. spt

Jack can be reached at jackbaric@hotmail.com

ON THE COVER: From Renegade To Legit

Professional skateboarder and Channel Street Skatepark regular, Robbie Russo, shows off his moves. (photo by John Mattera)

Cars and semi-trucks rumble overhead, while traffic through the busiest corridor of the Port of Los Angeles roars by at street level. Approaching the area underneath the 110 Harbor Freeway, the hum of traffic lessens. Replacing it are the sounds of wheels and wooden boards grinding against concrete and metal. The grittiness of the area seems contradictory to the sounds of teenage chatter, laughter and hands slapping other hands as skaters glide past each other. This is the Channel Street Skatepark.

Ten years ago, it seemed an unlikely location, but today it’s an obvious choice. “Skateboarding is loud,” says Andy Harris, one of the founders of the Channel Street Skatepark. “This is the perfect spot. No one is bothered by the sounds of skateboarding.”

There are no houses in the vicinity, and it’s behind a strip mall of businesses. “We don’t even hear them,” says John Bagakis, general manager of Big Nick’s Pizza, one of the businesses in the strip mall. “They’re good kids, and they come in and buy slices, and ask for water on hot days. We ask them not to ride on the sidewalks or inside the plaza, and they’ve been pretty respectful of the rules.”

Although the location is perfect, it didn’t always meet everyone’s approval. Harris, Robbie O’Connell, Bill Sargeant, Robert Yamasaki, Scott Smith and Gabe Solis were some of the local skaters who saw the desolate area as a shining gem. The group had no permits and had not created a non-profit. The land was owned by Caltrans, who had not given permission. But after fruitless years of trying to get the city to build a skatepark, they decided to go down the do-it-yourself path. The inspiration came from San Diego.

“We went down there and saw the skatepark at Washington Street and we were like ‘Wow, we have the same setup,’” says Harris. “So we came back to this spot, and started building bumps.”

The Washington Street Skatepark is a series of smooth concrete humps and bowls, and looks similar to what the Channel Street Skatepark is today. When they started building small bumps, no one noticed. When they got a concrete truck down there, it was a different story.

“They all showed up at the same time,” says Harris. “Harbor Department and the Department of Building and Safety were down here and just told us, this is all going to be torn down.”

But instead of listening or calling it a wash and just walking away, they fought.

“It’s the idea that you’re doing something that is beneficial,” says Harris of why he wouldn’t give up. “There’s no way this is going away. It’s for the kids in town.”

Andy Harris (front row, second from right) with the old and new guard of the Channel Street Skatepark. (photo by John Mattera)

Harris called Janice Hahn’s office, who at the time was the Los Angeles City Council member serving the 15th District, which covers San Pedro. Caroline Brady-Sinco, who worked for Janice Hahn, worked with Harris to keep the park open, even driving to San Diego to see the Washington Street Skatepark that inspired them. Brady-Sinco’s efforts worked.

“Next thing you know, the Harbor Department says we’ll put up a chain link fence,” says Harris.

Even though officials threatened them with closure, they firmly believed they would find a way to keep it.

“It’s an asset,” says fellow founder, Robbie O’Connell of the skatepark. “It’s for the little kid learning how to skate and the old crusty guy still skating after 25 years.”

Hahn’s office asked that they create a non-profit for the skatepark, which they did, called the San Pedro Skatepark Association. This way people and businesses can donate money and supplies so that the entire building cost isn’t borne by the founders. When asked how much money they spent out of pocket, Harris shrugs his shoulders. “I don’t even want to know,” he says.

The First Day - clearing debris under the 110 freeway. (photo by Andy Harris)

Thankfully, tax-deductible donations are now possible. Supporters like Pasha Stevedoring & Terminals has donated close to ten thousand dollars of rebar.

“We have so much rebar in there, good luck tearing it down,” jokes Harris. “If anything ever happens in the world, I’m taking cover there. It’s like a fortress.”

The park has grown from a few bumps in 2002 to about 8,000 square feet of smooth concrete humps and bowls. The outside walls are decorated with paint and mosaic tile art, much of which was done by the same skaters who are spending every afternoon at the park.

“We bring awareness to the kids and give them a sense of ownership,” says Harris. “It’s not about ‘this is mine,’ this is everybody’s.”

Harris is a longshoreman now, but before that he was a substitute teacher. It’s not surprising when seeing the connection he makes to the kids that visit the park. As he pulls up in his car, skaters come over one by one to slap hands and say hello. There is a tangible respect among all of the skaters, regardless of age.

One older man comes by holding a broom, says hello to Harris before walking away to finish sweeping areas of the skatepark.

“That’s Alfie,” says Harris. “Before he skates, he sweeps. We take care of this place. We don’t own it and we don’t want any reason for the city to ever say we don’t take care of it.”

Over the years, the number of skaters has multiplied. With the growing numbers is also a wide variety of age.

“When I was a kid, there weren’t any dads who skateboarded with their kids,” says Harris. “Now, on Saturdays here, it’s like mommy and me.”

There is one day that sticks with Harris, in which he realized that their little skatepark-that-could they had built was becoming a real, full-blown skatepark.

“It was the day when we were just working on the park and a minivan pulled up, and a mom dropped off a whole carload of kids,” says Harris. “I mean, they’re dropping their kids off under a freeway.”

Many parents view the park as a safer place for their kids to skate, rather than the car-filled streets of San Pedro.

Wooden framework is installed to shape the skatepark. (photo by Andy Harris)

Channel Street Skatepark will have to close down in the spring of 2013 for a full year. At that time, construction will be done on the 110 Freeway, forcing the park’s closure. Because of the community’s need for a safe place for skaters, a new skatepark is going to be built in Peck Park on Western Avenue. The estimated cost of the project is between $750,000 and $1 million with the City of Los Angeles Recreation and Parks funding the bulk of it with some money coming from the Tony Hawk Foundation. The Northwest Neighborhood Council, along with the San Pedro Skateboard Association, has been meeting with Recreation and Parks architects on design elements.

John Mavar, former vice president of the Northwest San Pedro Neighborhood Council, hopes the park will open in about a year and a half.

“This park is so important,” says Mavar. “We need to provide another location for the kids who skate, the same way we provide basketball courts or baseball diamonds.”

Officials are beginning to see having a skatepark as a necessity. Ten years ago, Harris and his friends couldn’t get anyone to listen to their pleas, but today, they’re helping to plan out a new skatepark. Not a do-it-yourself skatepark, but one paid for in large part by the city, permits and all.

Concrete is poured as the Channel Street Skatepark becomes a reality. (photo by Andy Harris)

The Channel Street Skatepark may have begun as just a place to skate, but it’s blossomed into something much larger. Harris’s next step is looking into liability insurance. It’s a far cry from where they started: just a few guys building skating bumps on illegal property under the freeway.

As Harris says, “We went from renegade to legit.” spt

For more information about the Skatepark or how to donate, visit the Channel Street Skatepark Facebook page.

New Councilman Faces First Test With An Old Problem

When it comes to Ponte Vista, a relieved Janice Hahn must be sitting in her D.C. congressional office thinking, “Well, Joe, the ball’s in your court now.” For our new councilman, the honeymoon is over. Joe Buscaino‘s had it pretty easy so far, with nothing but one great photo op after another (USS Iowa, Crafted, waterfront development, downtown bistro lights, pulling out parking meters) – all positives and no controversies. Then, after a two-year break in the action, along comes the new Ponte Vista plan. Hahn did what she could to stop the Bisno disaster, then kicked that can down the road for her successor to deal with. And as we all know, it’s a can of worms that sharply divided the community previously and will probably continue to do so under the iStar banner. Janice can tell him that no matter what he does, he’s going to make a lot of people unhappy.

Unlike Bisno, the new developers at least have the decency to start with a fairly reasonable number of units, 1,135, but my concern, as it always has been, isn’t the number of units per se, but the density. That’s why I’ve always stood firm that the property should remain zoned R1 for single-family habitats. Since we all know the real issue is traffic, the main concern about Ponte Vista remains the number of cars it will add to the still overburdened Western Avenue corridor.

Do we really need more apartments in San Pedro? We’re already way overbuilt as it is. Business owners always want more customers, but our infrastructure can’t handle the current density. We’ve just crammed too many people into an area that wasn’t designed to handle them.

I actually agree with Louie Dominguez about the one key component missing from the iStar proposal. If city planners agree to rezoning, they should at least make iStar put senior housing back in the plan. Senior housing means lots of widows and no kids. That translates into fewer cars. And while senior housing may cut into iStar’s bottom line, it’s a boon for local real estate. Seniors will sell the single-family homes they no longer want or need, putting them on the market for families that actually could use the space.

So now Joe’s in the hot seat. Dealing with Ponte Vista may make him wish he was back on the beat.

A Childhood Trifecta

Almost every time I go shopping, I run into someone I know. It’s a San Pedro thing. Still, since I haven’t been to a class reunion since 1974, there are a lot of childhood friends I haven’t seen in a long time, which made recent events strike me as more than a little unusual. It started with the Harbor College Silent Auction fundraiser, where Lefty Olguin had invited his cousin to play some background music. It turns out this cousin is Mike Guerrero. I’d heard that Mike played gigs around town, notably Godmother’s, but I hadn’t seen him since we’d graduated together from San Pedro High in Winter 1969. It was fun catching up with someone I had known since our days together at Leland Street Elementary and being in the same Cub Scout den.

Then, just a few weeks later, I was at the reunion for Phil Scott’s San Pedro YMCA swim teams, where I ran into a number of “old faces” from San Pedro High days. And one of the faces I instantly recognized (which isn’t always easy after 43 years) was Joey Dragicevich, who only recently moved back to California after decades on the East Coast. Joey wasn’t just another Winter `69 classmate; he also was one of my Leland Street and Cub Scout buddies, along with Guerrero.

It took a tragedy to complete this story, but one of the first calls I received after Van Barbieri’s passing was from his brother Anthony. While Van and I got to know each other later in life, it was Anthony I graduated with and, yes, knew from Leland Street and that same Cub Scout pack that included Mike and Joey. Anthony has spent most of the intervening years in San Diego.

The odds that within a few weeks I would run into any two of these people I hadn’t seen in more than 40 years has to be extraordinary. The odds of running into all three have to be astronomical. Seeing all three childhood playmates once more as we near our dotage was just plain heartwarming.

Van Fare-well

Even though he may have lived most of his adult life on the Hill, everyone knows Van Barbieri’s heart was always in San Pedro. It was said in many different ways, but Van was a Real San Pedran. In his 72 years, he managed to have three successful careers, first in journalism with the News-Pilot (where many remember his “Van Fare” column), then as the longtime publicist for Olympic boxing that earned him hall of fame recognition, and finally in real estate. What with all of his other civic activities, including the Sportswalk and DB Club, it’s no surprise Mary Star was nearly filled for his funeral. If we are judged by the number of friends we have, Van truly was a champion. spt